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Tongol records album to benefit GraceWay

ALBANY -- If there is a busier man in Albany than Dr. Jose Tongol, that elusive man does his work in complete obscurity.

Tongol, an oncologist at the Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Cancer Center, does his life-saving work with an ever-growing number of cancer patients in the region on a daily basis, and he was instrumental in dreaming the Snickers Marathon Energy Bar Marathon to life. In fact, in the perfect case of putting your body where your heart is, Tongol is a participant in the Albany -- as well as other -- marathon race.

Tongol is also involved in various other health consciousness-raising and charitable events, and on most Friday nights you can find him and his band JT & the YoYos performing classic rock favorites and originals at Casa Tapatia on Slappey Boulevard.

It was through his love for music and his and his wife Elena's support for the local GraceWay Recovery Residence that Tongol came up with his latest project: a group of mostly original songs that he recorded and collected for an album that he will sell as a GraceWay fundraiser.

"The work that they do at GraceWay touched my heart," the always-busy Tongol said. "I want to do as much as I can to help, so I decided to record an album and donate every penny of the money that's raised to GraceWay.

"I have a friend, Winton Gay from Pelham, who wrote a couple of songs, and he approached me about the possibility of recording them. I saw what he did and decided to try my hand at writing. I wrote six songs -- about my work, about dealing with cancer, about my wife, about running ... just about life -- and recorded them at Ed McRee's (Albany Recording) studio."

Liz Dixon, the development director at GraceWay, said music fans will need a hanky or two when they listen to Tongol's work.

"The songs just touch your heart," Dixon said. "I was really blown away that a man this busy would take the time to write a 'theme song' for us ('GraceWay Is Always There') among the very touching group of songs he wrote for this album.

"He writes about cancer from a doctor's perspective ('What Kind of Work Is This?'), something I'd never thought of before, and about going forward in life ('I'm Running'). He and Elena are just extraordinary people who want to help."

Tongol unveiled his benefit album Dec. 3 at an event dubbed "Caring for Camilla," another fundraiser for the recovery residence. In addition to playing for an enthusiastic collection of invited guests, Tongol also donated an automobile that was auctioned off.

"Through his and Elena's generosity, we have been able to fund two indigent women at GraceWay," Dixon said. "We've been able to offer two women an opportunity at a fresh start."

Tongol said it's important for the community to rally around a grassroots nonprofit like GraceWay, which receives no government funds.

"I feel fortunate that I don't have kids who need GraceWay, but there are obviously many young women who do," he said. "I want to help them move forward. By doing that -- by contributing to GraceWay -- I feel that I'm also helping Albany move forward. This is my city, and I want to help in any way I can."

To get a copy of Tongol's album or obtain more information about GraceWay, contact Dixon at (229) 446-4550.